The first “game week” of every new college football season should be reserved for predictions and game previews. That’s why Awful Announcing and the team at Bloguin’s college sports hub, The Student Section, are presenting a two-part roundtable this week to give you a sense of the larger college football media landscape.
In part one, we focus on the people at the forefront of the games and studio shows you’ll see this fall. Joining Awful Announcing editor Matt Yoder are Student Section editor Matt Zemek, TSS columnist Allen Kenney, and TSS contributor Kevin McGuire, who is also the publisher of Bloguin’s Penn State site, Nittany Lions Den.
1. Which broadcast team are you most interested in watching this season?
On Twitter: @myoder84
I’m most interested in watching Year 2 of Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit. Much was made of Fowler’s promotion at ESPN into the #1 play by play spot for college football and Brent Musburger being sent down to the SEC Network. For much of the season, I think myself and a lot of fans were missing Brent like we miss an old pair of sandals. That’s not to say Fowler did a bad job necessarily, there just wasn’t that unique feeling you got in hearing Brent Musburger call a big college football game.
That finally changed for me in the first College Football Playoff when Fowler took ownership of the job. He no longer sounded like a great studio guy trying to do play by play, he sounded like a really good play by play man. He was more energetic, more into it, and his big calls rose to the occasion. I want to see if Fowler continues that momentum and firmly establishes himself as the broadcasting voice of the sport this year.
On Twitter: @BlatantHomerism
I’m most interested in watching Dave Flemming and Mack Brown. Brown is super smooth, but his persona is generally on the political tip. Good in-game analysis necessarily requires a critical approach to the action in front of you, and I don’t know if Brown has that in him.
On Twitter: @SectionMZ
Bob Wischusen and Brock Huard.
I can say with certainty that answers on this next point will vary considerably from person to person, but to me, Huard is the most underrated college football analyst in the business. I find his analysis to be substantive, not overpowered by cliches (hello, Jesse Palmer), and imbued with a sense of what it’s like to process the game internally — either on the field or within the locker room. Wischusen is a new partner for Huard, but a thoroughly professional one. If I have a chance to single out their broadcast in a given game window, I’ll do so.
On Twitter: @KevinOnCFB
My answer may not be digging too deep into the field, but I’ll stand by the combination of Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit along with Heather Cox on the sideline. Last we saw Fowler finally be given chance to break away from the Jesse Palmer-David Pollack sideshow in the booth and he was rewarded for his time served with having Herbstreit by his side. I thought the transition in the booth for ESPN’s big game team went pretty smoothly (dumping Brent Musberger on SEC Network is another story entirely), and I think Year 2 of the announcing team should see some good continued growth calling the big games of the week. Fowler proved he has the chops to call the action on the grand stage and Herbstreit is a veteran analyst and among the best in the game.
2. Which broadcast team gets a bad rap?
It all started on the night of the 2006 SEC Championship Game between Florida and Arkansas. Gary Danielson, though a former quarterback at Purdue and then with the Detroit Lions in the pros, wound up making a strong case for Florida to be selected over Michigan for the BCS National Championship Game against Ohio State. From that point onward, Danielson’s analytical chops and professional acumen have been overlooked.
Yes, Danielson is weakest when he editorializes. Yes, he does too much of it in an age when game broadcasters are encouraged to talk about things other than the game going on in front of them. Yet, in terms of breaking down a game as it happens — telling you what and where the hot read is and whether the quarterback sees it or not — Danielson exists without peer, especially now that Mike Mayock is gone from Notre Dame Football on NBC.
As for Verne Lundquist, fans are unforgiving when a great voice loses a little bit on his fastball. Lundquist looks bad on occasion, but a Verne broadcast still goes down smoothly enough that calls for retirement are unwarranted. This is a legend. He and Danielson catch way too much flak from SEC fans who persist in believing Verne and Gary hate their team.
Any broadcast team with a female in the booth. The Cro-Magnon junk that comes across my Twitter timeline every weekend regarding Beth Mowins and other women on broadcasting teams always irritates me. It’s 2015. Move on.
Beth Mowins suffers from Pam Wardaphobia. It is amazing to me just how many people do not realize Mowins is not Pam Ward even years after seeing Ward moved out of the college football broadcasting booth by ESPN. Having watched plenty of games called by Mowins in the past few years, I can honestly say I think she is much better than she may ever get credit because she is a woman. She stands alone in calling a game played for and coached by men, and she struggles to break out of the Pam Ward hate for whatever reason. Give Mowins an honest chance, and you will see she does her homework and can handle the job as good as, or better, than a good chunk of announcers out there calling games today.
Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson. Whether in SEC country or not, there’s a great polarization when it comes to this long-standing CBS pair. I have a soft spot in my heart for them because while not the most technically sound broadcasting duo anymore, they still channel the emotion and the passion that makes college football so special. College football, perhaps more so than any other sport, is an experience. Sometimes a “WOW!” or “MY GRACIOUS” from Uncle Verne is enough to feel it.
3. What is the most exciting new development in terms of how ESPN has re-deployed its announcing crews for the 2015 season?
I was happy to see the Lou Holtz-Mark May vaudeville act broken up. They squeezed all the blood from that stone long ago. It also means a larger role for Joey Galloway, who is one of ESPN’s sharpest analysts.
If we’re talking in the studio, it’s without a doubt the breakup of Lou Holtz and Mark May on College Football Final, which was as bad for college football as First Take is for general sports. If we’re talking the announcing booth specifically, I’m excited to see Joe Tessitore take over Thursday Night Football because he’s fantastic. I’m also looking forward to hearing Mack Brown as a regular game analyst because he was pretty good during the bowls last year.
Forget about the booth assignments because the biggest area of improvement in ESPN’s television coverage will come with a revamped approach to College Football Final. Gone are Mark May and Lou Holtz (and Rece Davis of course) and in steps Joe Tessitore. For pregame and postgame shows, plus halftime reports during games on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, we’ll get to see a rising Adnan Virk with Joey Galloway and Danny Kanell.
College Football Final needed new blood and less schtick. It’s OK to still have some fun with the new studio crew, but anything that steps away from fake trials is a major win and a step forward to respectability. ESPN has covered the sport of college football better than anybody else over the years, but this was a constant reminder that not everything was perfect.
As for pregame, postgame, and halftime commentary, this new trio might not be perfect, but the Galloway-Kanell combo has shown some good promise when we have seen it before, and I anticipate getting more satisfaction out of ESPN’s studio analysis than I have in a long time.
I like the fact that Rece Davis will get his shot at hosting GameDay, but I would emphasize that the move is exciting because it enables Chris Fowler to be a play-by-play specialist.
Let’s acknowledge the brutal schedule of hosting GameDay — often in one location — and then flying to another location to set up and call a game. Fowler will be able to watch more football before his game assignment. He won’t have to travel as much. He can really sharpen his play-by-play skills and perfect the art of lending the right inflections and tonal qualities to big-moment calls. Fowler has always been a solid play-by-play voice — there’s nothing he does that one would call “wrong.” It’s just that elite play-by-play voices make big moments memorable, and that’s plainly something Fowler has not yet done. Moving Rece to GameDay enables Fowler to truly claim play-by-play as his own. I’m expecting good things this season.